As discussed in this weeks lecture, race, gender and health are interwoven. Genetic similarities should not be misconstrued as the equivalence of biological races and no medical test can determine race because there are no specific genetic markers that will be identical for every person of a race. Instead, race should be understood as a social construct created by society to categorize people with similar social and cultural influences. Diseases will vary in prevalence among these populations; therefore, to best discern the distribution of disease and explain the racial differences in health both genetic and cultural components should be examined. Disparities in the influences that link people to a race, with regards to dietary practices, access to education and socioeconomic factors (education, wealth and neighborhood), can impair health.
For example, the Pima Indians of Central Arizona are the most diabetes prone group. Ancestors of the Pima Indians survived in a hunter-gatherer society and were, at times, subjected to famine. Those with a ‘thrifty gene’ were able to better store fat and persist during these socioeconomically hard periods. And because they married within their own community they were also more likely to produce offspring with this mutation. Presently, food shortages are rare so those Pima Indians with a ‘thrifty gene’ continue to store fat leading to obesity and Type II diabetes. In this instance, racial disproportion of diabetes can be explained by genetics and race.
Skin cells produce more melanin, a pigment responsible for giving color, when exposed to UV rays from the sun. And melanoma is a form of cancer that can develop from the cells that make melanin. Melanoma is prevalent among Whites because they have fair skin or less skin pigmentation compared to people with naturally brown or black skin color. This prevents Whites from enduring relatively high levels of sun exposure. Social determinants may include tanning in a tanning bed and refraining from applying sunscreen.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC – Skin Cancer Statistics.” Accessed July 10, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/index.htm.